Fifty years after the enactment of the Equal Pay Act, in 1963, women still earn less than men. “Ultimately, no matter how you look at the data, a persistent pay gap remains,” according to a June 2013 report from the National Equal Pay Task Force, which blamed the wage gap partially on men dominating science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) jobs and a so-called motherhood penalty.
Created by the White House in 2010, the interagency task force comprises the major federal agencies that enforce U.S. laws that bar pay discrimination—namely, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the Department of Justice, the Department of Labor and the Office of Personnel Management. Its goal is to improve compliance, public education and enforcement of equal-pay laws by ensuring that the agencies are coordinating efforts and limiting potential gaps in enforcement.
The day the Equal Pay Act was signed into law, women earned, on average, 59 cents for every dollar a man earned. “Today it’s about 77 cents,” President Obama said on June 10, 2013, in the East Room of the White House. “So, it was 59 and now it’s 77 cents. It’s even less, by the way, if you’re an African-American or a Latina.”
The president pressed for Congress to “step up and pass the Paycheck Fairness Act, so women have better tools to fight for equal pay for equal work.”
The pay disparity is due, in part, to women continuing to fill lower-paying jobs because of “occupational segregation.”
The report listed the top 10 occupations women fill:
- Secretaries and administrative assistants.
- Professional nurses.
- Elementary- and middle-school teachers.
- Retail salespersons.
- Nursing, psychiatric and home health aides.
- First-line supervisors and managers of retail salespersons.
- Customer-service representatives.
Male-dominated professions requiring a high school diploma or a bachelor’s degree or higher continue to pay more than fields with a high concentration of women.
For example, the three most common male-dominated jobs requiring a high school diploma—brick mason, tool and die maker, and plumber—provide average salaries of $45,410, $39,910 and $46,660, respectively.
By contrast, the top three female-dominated jobs requiring a high school diploma—secretary, child care worker and hairdresser—offer average salaries of $34,660, $19,300 and $22,500, respectively.
Occupations are segregated by gender in professions requiring a bachelor’s degree or higher, the report added, and the male-dominated jobs are paid more.
The three most common male-dominated jobs requiring a higher-education degree—mechanical engineer, computer-control programmer and operator, and aerospace engineer—provide average salaries of $78,160, $71,380 and $97,480, respectively.
The top female-dominated professions requiring a higher-education degree—speech-language pathologist, occupational therapist and dietitian—provide average salaries of $66,920, $72,320 and $53,250, respectively.
The Council on Women and Girls and the White House Office of Science and Technology have emphasized increasing women’s and girls’ participation in STEM fields.
Historically, these fields were almost exclusively male, as was the military, the report noted. However, STEM occupations as well as the military are now more open to women, it added. “Notably, women who hold STEM degrees and work in STEM occupations earn 33 percent more, on average, than women in non-STEM jobs,” the report said. “While women in non-STEM occupations typically earn 23 percent less than their male colleagues, the salaries of women in STEM fields are only 14 percent less than those of their male co-workers.”
Women of color earn less than white women, according to the report. Black women earn approximately 70 cents and Hispanic women approximately 60 cents for every dollar earned by a non-Hispanic white man, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data; and 64 cents for black women and 56 cents for Hispanic women, according to census data.
While occupational segregation “is sometimes described as a simple matter of women’s choices,” the report said, historical patterns of exclusion and discrimination paint a fuller picture.
“The gender pay gap exists for women working full time as well as part time, and begins when women are first employed, which is often well before they have children,” the report observed. “Regardless of whether work hours could explain some portion of the wage gap, research shows there is a ‘motherhood penalty’ for female workers with children, stemming from stereotypes and biases about working mothers.”
Fathers aren’t discriminated against, according to the report. But “researchers have found the mere fact of parenthood for women leads to perceptions of lowered competence and commitment, and lower salary offers.”
Paycheck Fairness Act
To close the pay gap, the report recommended that Congress pass the Paycheck Fairness Act.
Obama emphasized this point, saying, “Now is the time for Congress to step up and pass the Paycheck Fairness Act so women have better tools to fight for equal pay for equal work.
He continued: “Over the course of her career, a working woman with a college degree will earn, on average, hundreds of thousands of dollars less than a man who does the same work. Now that’s wrong. I don’t want that for Malia and Sasha. I don’t want that for your daughters. I don’t want that to be an example that any child growing up ends up accepting as somehow the norm. I want every child to grow up knowing that a woman’s hard work is valued and rewarded just as much as any man’s.”